By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
None of Milan Richard’s friends saw his uncle play football so Herschel Walker easily fit the prototype of a Legend, a mythical figure in an extraordinary story from long, long ago or a virtual hologram.
Milan Richard is not Herschel Walker, now and perhaps never, though he is one of the top tight ends – not a running back – in the 2014 college football recruiting class. His intentions are to sign with Clemson – not Georgia – on Feb. 5 and join an offense that embraces the power, speed and versatility unique to tight ends, the best of whom are among the rarest commodities.
At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, he is already bigger than his uncle who always seemed larger than life as an All-American running back as Jawja Dawg more than 30 years ago, one of those people who required only his given name to be recognized, Herschel like Kobe or Peyton.
Running back was probably never an option though Walker’s father, upon seeing his grandson throw a football, suggested he might have a quarterback’s arm. As a kid Richard played baseball – outfield, first base, pitcher – and basketball. For awhile his mother thought it might be hoops, her passion, or baseball, though she also wouldn’t have minded it he had chosen track. That was how she met Bill Richard at the University of Georgia, a pair of All-American speedsters, he in the hurdles and Veronica in the sprints.
It became more evident as Milan entered high school in Savannah, Ga., that football was his likely route. Though it was never expected of him as the nephew of Herschel Walker, there was no denying the influence. Bright and engaging, he wasn’t shy and was active and inquisitive.
Always bigger than most other kids his age, Milan initially played on rec teams where weight limitations restricted his opportunity to touch the ball, and his height eventually pushed him through the template for running back. Once in middle school, he began to blossom with the ball in his hands.
Now, as Calvary Day School coach Mark Stroud watches video of him catching a pass and outrunning the defense, he’s convinced the kid was built for the position, a product of genetics and a strong family support system. Richard’s mother said they college coaches seemed to know instinctively.
“When we went to different camps,” she said, “coaches would look at him and say, ‘tight end, right?’”
After a solid junior season, Richard began to be noticed during those summer daytrips to college camps. Despite playing at a small, private school, it was evident this was a special athlete, said Stroud. “His mom and dad had a special vision for him and they did well.”
In a state dominated by the Southeastern Conference, from a family so immersed in Georgia Culture, Richard’s choice of Clemson seemed a bit odd, but not out of the ordinary. It spoke, at least on a fundamental level, to his maturity and independence rather than defiance. And, ironically, Georgia stole one a while back in tight end Jay Rome, son of a former Clemson basketball and football player.
His parents insisted there was never any family pressure, Veronica Richard said, the choice was his, “and was not about us or his Uncle Herschel. We want you to go where ever you’re going to be happy. Georgia may not have been a good fit for him.”
Like so many others, Richard needs to improve his skill without the ball. Stroud, who coached former Clemson player Nick Eason during 16 seasons at Toombs County (Ga.) High, said Richard’s ceiling is immeasurable. Clemson’s offensive style was a huge factor, his mother said, as well as the small-town environment and the family ambience Coach Dabo Swinney imbues.
“When we visited, I watched him and could tell,” Veronica Richard said. “I could see this was where he wants to go.”
Walker maintained a respective distance throughout. His presence at public events typically created an unintended and often unwanted distraction, so Walker seldom attended Richard’s games.
Coincidentally, he first saw Richard play as a freshman on the same field at Johnson County High School where the Herschel Legend took root.
“Milan is so mature at such a young age because he’s been around a lot of great athletes,” she said. “Being Herschel’s nephew he had seen a lot so he knew what to expect.
“Herschel kept his distance because he wanted the best for him.”
Now it’s Milan’s time – one name.